Searching for a broader role on the Web

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Directories look for ways to build brands

Search engines are rapidly becoming a lot more than places to go to find your way around the Web.

In less than two years companies like Yahoo, Lycos and Info-Seek have fostered technology to search the Web, started to sell advertising and gone public. Now the search engines are building alliances and licensing content in an effort to become not only a stopping-off point but a destination.

`WE FEEL LIKE MEDIA COMPANIES'

"It's all happened so fast; search engines are no longer search engines," said Karen Edwards, director of marketing for Yahoo! Corp., Mountain View, Calif. "We feel a lot more like media companies, providing information via various formats."

Although each of the major search engines has its own brand-building strategy, they all agree that success, or survival, for that matter, will depend on the strength of the brand.

"Search engines right now are becoming one-stop destinations as opposed to purely places to go to get somewhere else," said Bob Davis, president-CEO of Wilmington, Mass.-based Lycos Corp.

InfoSeek Corp., Santa Clara, Calif., is reviewing its $5 million advertising account, currently at Margeotes/Fertitta & Partners, New York. Anderson & Lembke, San Francisco, is known to be participating in the review.

Lycos this summer is expected to name an agency and launch a national branding campaign.

Yahoo! hired Black Rocket, San Francisco, for its under-$10 million account, while Excite went with Foote, Cone & Belding for its estimated $5 million account.

LYCOS FOCUSES ON LICENSING

Lycos now has more than 23 licensees. The company partnered with The Swedish Post for Lycos Nordic and will soon have a presence in Germany. Lycos also signed a deal with Simon & Schuster, which will publish more than 30 books over the next three years under the Lycos brand.

The search engine will also soon offer personalized online newspapers driven by smart agents. It's negotiating alliances with content providers for the effort.

Yahoo!, meanwhile, is focusing on aggregating and tailoring content. The company this week will launch its first regional edition, dubbed Yahoo! San Francisco. Yahoo! New York and Yahoo! Los Angeles will launch Aug. 1. The company also is expanding internationally with Yahoo! Japan and Yahoo! Canada; U.K., French and German versions are expected shortly.

COMING SOON: MY YAHOO! Yahoo! in July is expected to launch a customized version called My Yahoo!, which will offer personalized content.

"Clearly it will be branding that drives usage; technology is something that we as a company can acquire," Ms. Edwards said. "At the end, consumers will gravitate toward what they know, what they've heard about most and what looks the least intimidating."

As another part of its regional efforts, Yahoo! has formed an alliance with Granite Broadcasting Corp., a chain of network affiliates in midsize markets including Austin, Texas, and Syracuse, N.Y. Granite stations in each market will offer Yahoo!-branded information obtained from a Yahoo! search to enhance a news story.

InfoSeek's strategy also involves aggregating content. In addition to alliances with companies including Reuters NewMedia, Hearst New Media and Nynex Corp, InfoSeek is expected to announce a partnership with Dow Jones & Co. to provide daily news.

"Creating a meaningful frame of reference for both consumers and advertisers is the key to unlock this category," said Jim Desrosier, VP-chief marketing officer at InfoSeek. "The second wave will be about providing people with answers [and] serving as an agent connecting a marketer with a consumer."

Lycos, Yahoo! and InfoSeek all depend heavily on advertising as a major source of revenue.

SURVIVAL DEPENDS ON AD SUPPORT

"There will probably be some consumption of search engines by other engines," said Scott Smith, senior analyst at Jupiter Communications, New York. "Survival will depend on how broad the offering is, both to consumers and probably more importantly, advertisers that provide most of their revenue."

Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo.

Copyright June 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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